Western Cape – Garden Route – Witsand

About the Birding

Start at the Witsand Nature Reserve (-34.3956, 20.8444). There are a few small walking paths with an incredible view of the Breede River mouth and estuary and a couple of benches from which to enjoy it. The paths form an easy 1 km loop on which you may see Southern Boubou, Bokmakierie, Olive Bushshrike, Bar-throated Apalis, and Southern Double-collared Sunbird in the surrounding bush. While keeping an eye on the sea for whales, also be on the lookout for Caspian Tern, African Black Oystercatcher, and White-fronted Plover.

From there drive down to the parking just beyond the Breede River Lodge (-34.3970, 20.8239). Take a stroll along the bank of the Breede River away from the mouth (provided the water level is not too high). Here you may well see Giant Kingfisher, Grey Heron, African Fish Eagle, and Bar-tailed Godwit.

There is a roadside seasonal pan as you exit Witsand (-34.3861, 20.8264). It provides some of the best birding and photographic opportunities in the area. Depending on the time of year and amount of rainfall, the pan can be home to large numbers of Red-knobbed Coot, Black-necked Grebe, and Greater- and Lesser Flamingo. Cape Shoveler and Blacksmith Lapwing can also be expected, while Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt are a possibility. Flocks of Common Tern may be seen flying around in summer.

The road from Witsand to Heidelberg, and the gravel roads to Vermaaklikheid (-34.3012, 21.0291) also provide good birding. Capped Wheatear seem to be on every second fence post. It may also be one of the best places to see South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane. Agulhas Long-billed Lark is endemic to the area, and one will have their work cut out for them trying to identify it amidst the myriad of other lark and pipit species. Be sure to keep your eye on the sky for the possibility of Cape Vulture flying over from the nearby colony in the Potberg Mountain.

About the Birding Site

Situated on the banks of the Breede River estuary, Witsand is a beautiful coastal town. The river, sea, beach, and surrounding fynbos, and farmlands make it a great holiday destination and birding site. Fishing, kitesurfing, and boating are popular activities.

As the “Whale Nursery of South Africa”, Witsand has the highest concentration of Southern Right Whales on the South African coast each year between June and November. Mothers and their calves are often seen very close to shore, sometimes even breaching. But whales aren’t the only thing you could see in the air since there is also plenty of bird life in the area.

On the stretch of pristine beach, you could find birds like the African Black Oystercatcher and White-fronted Plover. Part of the beach can be seen from the Witsand Nature Reserve which itself is a good birding site with beautiful views of the sea, beach, and estuary. Further up the estuary, there are houses replaced by coastal fynbos and renosterveld, providing peace and tranquility and more birding opportunities.

The roadside seasonal pan at the exit of Witsand is the start of a long stretch of flat, open farmlands. The Western Cape is a winter rainfall region, and so the pan is most full and productive in winter. This is also the time of the year in which the landscape is scattered with bright yellow canola fields. If a canola field happens to be adjacent to the pan in a particular year it provides a particularly stunning scene with water birds swimming in and among the canola.

The long stretch of flat, open farmlands between Witsand, Heidelberg, and Vermaaklikheid (and beyond) is only interrupted by the occasional farmhouse, patches of natural vegetation, a few dams, and the Duivenhoks River with its surrounding bush. Birds are abundant and very easy to spot in this area due to the openness.

Other Related Information

GPS points:
Witsand Nature Reserve: -34.3956, 20.8444
Roadside Seasonal Pan: -34.3861, 20.8264
Parking before upper banks of estuary: -34.3970, 20.8239

There are no admission costs for any of the sites mentioned. The Witsand Nature Reserve is not wheelchair friendly. There is not disability access for walking along the bank of the Breede River estuary beyond the Breede River Lodge. All other sites are accessible by car and do not require walking.

Text prepared by:

Peter Martin

Key species:

Blue Crane, Lesser Flamingo, Cape Vulture, Capped Wheatear, Giant Kingfisher, Caspian Tern, Bar-tailed Godwit, Olive Bushshrike, Bokmakierie, Black-necked Grebe

Contact details:


Lower Breede River Conservancy Trust
Email: info@breede-river.org
Phone: +27 (0)28 537 1296 / +27 (0)64 774 3862